Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age

In her first book, Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, veteran nonprofit leader Allison Fine confesses to having employed many of the practices her book earnestly seeks to unseat. It's a surprising admission from a self-described social entrepreneur with almost two decades of experience in the charitable sector, including a dozen at the helm of Innovation Network, an organization she founded in 1992. But it enhances Momentum's empowering message, which is that the nonprofit landscape has changed significantly over the past decade and that nonprofits willing to adapt can succeed and flourish.

A plainly written tract peppered with the occasional awkward analogy, Momentum paints a portrait of grantmaking foundations encumbered by muddled missions, hierarchical management styles, onerous reporting requirements, poor understanding of the communities they serve, and adversarial relationships with grantseekers and their peers. Fine, a senior fellow at Manhattan think tank Demos, drives this last point home by citing how the recent boom in philanthropy has been matched by an increase in societal ills. On the flip side, she spotlights the continued spread of interactive communications technologies (what she calls "social media") and their successful use by individual activists and burgeoning activist movements such as Moveon.org, Justvote.org, and the blogosphere in general as proof that something new and different is afoot.

While Fine falls short of predicting that near-ubiquitous connectivity will spark social change, she envisions social media as the means to bring about an improved philanthropic environment where listening is paramount, participation is meaningful, decision making is decentralized, proprietary inclinations are discarded, and nonprofits and their volunteers have clearly articulated aims. Integrate social media with this new philanthropic approach and you have what Fine calls "connected activism," a framework for transforming grantseeking nonprofits from agents to facilitators and charitable individuals from cash cows to social change agents.

Where this leaves more traditional grantmakers, Momentum makes less clear. Fine admits that connected activism's results are difficult to measure and therefore something of a puzzle to grantmakers, which in turn leads her to suggest that they focus on short-term projects and provide seed money to startups. As for organizations that don't fall into either of these categories, Fine suggests more funding for organizational networking, which in theory would give nonprofits access to the resources conventional grants now provide. This is Fine's biggest reach and one of the book's weaker arguments.

Momentum has a good premise — connected activism as a cost-efficient and labor-distributing alternative to current advocacy models — but the book falters when Fine tries to connect all the dots. It's a bit ironic, since Fine, acknowledging that the issues facing nonprofits are diverse and manifold, asserts in her introduction that Momentum aims to be more road map than blueprint. The book also drags a bit in its explanations of widely adopted and reported technologies (e.g., Google alerts and blogging). But even the tech-savvy reader will benefit from Fine's integrated approach to improving philanthropic effectiveness. Acutely parsed or wholly integrated, Momentum proves that connected activism is and will continue to be a dynamic tool for the nonprofit community.

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